The Sun is one of the most important spirits of the Sami

The sun eclipse last Friday (on March 20th) got me inspired to tell you about the sun in the Sami history.
Sami call the sun Beaivi or Beaivvás. The sun is one of the most important spirits or Gods of the Sami. In drawings on Sami drums there is often Beaivvás in the middle of the drum. The Sun can be drawn round, as we are used to see it, but also the four-cornered drum-picture with reigns of light drawn in four directions is interpreted to be the Sun.


The Sun is always important to the Sami. In Enontekiö in the north of Finland in old times a cake was baked of meal and reindeer blood. At the end of winter, this cake was placed outside against the wall, as an offering to Beaivvás. This offering was thought to bring good fortune in reindeer herding. The Sami asked the Sun to shine to give light to wanderers in the mountains, to seafarers and to herders searching for lost reindeer.


There is also a Sami story about a woman named Mariska, and a priest who tried to convert Mariska to Christianity.
The priest says, “My poor child, you are now the only pagan left in this region”. Mariska agrees and turns around and sends a kiss to the Sun. She answers, “When you are old like me, you will like the warm Gods”. The priest continues: “But what happens, when the Sun disappears in the winter, behind the clouds?” “One of Beaivvás´ sons sits upon my wood oven. I give him firewood to eat.”, replies Mariska.
“I thought that wood is also one of your Gods. I have seen how respectfully you treat the bark and use it in your handcrafts. How can you put your God in the fire?”, asks the priest. “Only a God is worthy to be food for another God”, answered Mariska, and then she explained that she prefers a God that can be cut down, like a tree, instead of a God she cannot see nor touch.
The story tells Mariska eventually turned into Christianity, but she still continued to worship the Sun.

Reindeer for tourist attractions and herding

Let me tell you about my, for the time being, favorite animal, the Lappish reindeer. I just love their big, dark brown eyes and their slow movements in the Lappish nature. I have had the fortune during my stay in Lapland to see lots of reindeer in different seasons and in different places. I have met almost tame reindeer and been able to touch their heads and their backs. I have of course also many times pressed the breaks in my car because there is one or more reindeer on the road. I even once saw a reindeer sleeping in the middle of the road.

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In Lapland all reindeer are domesticated. So all reindeer hunting is prohibited. Reindeer have been herded for centuries by the Sami people. They all keep and have kept reindeer for meat, hides and antlers. Earlier they also milked the reindeer and used them for transportation. In Siberia they even used the reindeer for riding. But then we need to remember that the Siberian reindeer are larger than their Lapland relatives.

They roam freely on pasture grounds in the north of Finland, Sweden and Norway. In traditional nomadic reindeer herding, the herders migrated with their herds between coast and inland areas by the same migration routes, and herds are keenly looked after.

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Even if they were tamed for milking and for use as aught animals or pack-load beasts, still the large majority of reindeer have never been bred in captivity. The female reindeer calves in the spring in May. At this time the doe can nurse its calf without worrying about annoying insect swarms that come later. During summer the most important food for the reindeer is birch leaves, grass and lichen.

Even if the reindeer has been domesticated, they still are quite timid and will avoid people. During the mating period in autumn I have been warned to be a little careful to be near male reindeer. They may attack if provoked. Lapland’s predators, such as the wolverine, bear and wolf, are the natural enemies of the reindeer.

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The Sami people also use reindeer in running competitions. The yearly arranged Reindeer cup in Lapland has many spectators; both tourists and inhabitants. In the middle of Rovaniemi city they also arrange a reindeer run every year in the middle of March.




I have, as many tourists, also bought me a reindeer hide. People preparing the skins nail the skins on a wall to dry out. When the fat of the skin dries on the surface of the hide, it gets water-repellent. The dried skins are nice to lie on. Thus these skins are much used on sledges in winter. Otherwise you can use the reindeer hide even in summer to sit or sleep on. When you visit a Lappish teepee you’ll notice the ever-present reindeer hides.

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Reindeer skins are used for making bags, slippers, mittens and footwear. In the Sami language one type of footwear is called “nuvttot” which has the hairy side out. Reindeer suede and leather are suitable for making clothes. Reindeer skin is thin and easy to shape. It’s also comfortable to wear.

There are also a lot of products made from reindeer horn, such as handles, buttons and key fobs among other things.

IMG_0623In Rovaniemi they even have their own police-reindeer, Artturi. Other cities use to have police-dogs or -horses….:) Artturi is here watching over the reindeer cup in Rovaniemi city in March 2012.






The Sámis and their reindeer

Tourists arrive in Rovaniemi and wonder: Where are the Sámis and the reindeer? Well, I can tell, there are a few opportunities to see Sámis and reindeer also in Rovaniemi, but mostly the Finnish Sámis are seen in their own region – in the upper north of Finland where they have lived for centuries. On the map you see the area where the Sámis live in Scandinavia and Russia and they even have their own flag.

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Rovaniemi belongs to Lapland and is even the capital of Lapland but the city seems to be just like any other city most of the time of the year. The sámis turn up in the city on their yearly sámi meeting in January; the Sámi thing. In February there are reindeer races both on the trotting track of Rovaniemi as well as in the middle of the city center. These yearly events are popular for the tourists but also for the local people. At least I have attended these events several times. You are surprised how hard these reindeer really run! In the city of Rovaniemi there is even a police-reindeer, named Artturi. His mother was also a police-reindeer, Maija, but she unfortunately was killed by a car the other year.



On the Arctic circle in the Santa Claus village you can meet sámis and their reindeer daily during tourist season around Christmas and also admire the beautiful dresses the sámis wear. By paying a small fee you can take a tour with some beautiful reindeer and you can also discuss the herding and the culture with a local sámi. Some years there has been arranged a sámi park also in the city center of Rovaniemi around Christmas.




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I am really crazy about reindeer. I just love these animals! At every opportunity I get I take photos of reindeer. I have got quite a few during these years. Mostly I see them out near the road, but on the Arctic circle they are so nicely fixed with ornaments and the reindeer brought there are so tame you can even touch them.


The nicest ornaments on reindeer I saw on a trip once to the sámi area of Russia, Lovozero. We attended a reindeer market where the Russian sámis showed up their beautiful animals and also competed with them on reindeer races.

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In Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, there are also reindeer statues in the parks.  IMG_8394IMG_8045IMG_5520

The Sámi people, also spelled Saami, are the indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia. IMG_2972The Sámis are the only indigenous people of Scandinavia recognized and protected under the international conventions of indigenous peoples, and hence the northernmost indigenous people of Europe. Their traditional languages are the Sámi languages and are classified as a branch of the Uralic language family. Traditionally, the Sámis have pursued a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing, fur trapping and sheep herding. Their best-known means of livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding, with which about 10% of the Sámi are currently connected and 2,800 actively involved on a full-time basis. For traditional, environmental, cultural and political reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved only for Sámi people in certain regions of the Nordic countries.

shamantrummaFor tourist groups there is arranged meetings with an original sámi shaman. These meetings are surrounded by a lot of secrecy and it is very exciting for the tourists. The shaman sits in his Lappish tepee and by the fireplace he cooks his coffee, hits his drum and starts telling stories to the guests. At the end of the ceremony he makes some marks of soot from the fireplace in the forehead of the guests and tells them they will eventually return to Lapland one day in the shape of a reindeer. That is not a bad destiny, is it?